Zak, Eugene (1884-1926) – 1925c. Head of a Woman (National Museum, Wroclaw, Poland) | Online Art Museum

Zak, Eugene (1884-1926) – 1925c. Head of a Woman (National Museum, Wroclaw, Poland)

Zak, Eugene (1884-1926) - 1925c. Head of a Woman (National Museum, Wroclaw, Poland)

Oil on canvas; 45 x 37.5 cm.

Eugeniusz Zak was born to a family of assimilated Polish Jews. In 1902 he left Warsaw for Paris to undertake studies at the École des Beaux-Arts under academician Jean-Léon Gérôme. In 1903, he traveled to Italy and Munich to study returning in 1904. In the same year his debut took place at the Autumn Salon. On the Seine he was involved in the life of the Polish colony, participating in the Society of Polish Artists in Paris. His fame grew rapidly. The French government purchased one of his paintings for the Luxembourg Museum (1910), he organized a one-man show at Galerie Druet (1911), and he was connected with important personalities of Parisian cultural life. In 1912 he became a professor at the Académie La Palette.

In 1916 he returned with his family to Poland, settling in his wife’s hometown of Częstochowa. He associated with the Formists. Upon his frequent visits to Warsaw, he collaborated with the future members of Rhythm, a group he co-founded in 1921. In 1922 he left Poland for good. First, he went to Germany, where he had already been known and esteemed before the World War I. He visited Berlin and later Bonn, where he carried out a commission to decorate the interior of the villa of the architect Fritz August Breuhaus with paintings. He co-operated with the periodical Deutsche Kunst und Dekoration. In 1923 he settled once again in Paris, where he joined his friends Zygmunt Menkes and Marc Chagall. His growing artistic fame and financial successes ended suddenly when he died of a heart attack.

From the beginning, Żak expressed his artistic temperament through a sophisticated application of line, referring in his sanguine portraits to works by Leonardo, Botticelli, Holbein and Dürer. In the early stage of his career, he approached the style of the Nabis, through the manipulation of flat areas, enclosed within distinct contours and faded, slightly matte colors. For a brief period, he succumbed – like so many of his Parisian colleagues – to the exoticism and folk atmosphere of Brittany. He also borrowed certain motifs from Chinese porcelain and Persian miniatures. He painted views of Parisian back streets and boulevards on the Seine and, sporadically, took up New Testament themes.

Even before World War I, some of his compositions were in line with the idyllic tradition represented by works of such artists as Poussin, Watteau, and most of all Puvis de Chavannes, whose Poor Fisherman at the Louvre inspired a number of Żak’s paintings. Zak began to intensify the stylization of his figural silhouettes and faces. Żak’s Arcadia, inspired by nature and landscapes by European masters, was inhabited by people with a hermaphroditic beauty, undoubtedly linked to Żak’s fascination with the Renaissance. Their physiognomies recall the profiles of ancient Greek art, with the nose angled straight from the forehead and distinctly outlined eyes, while the faces bear a languorous, nostalgic expression. . Żak, like Modigliani, by means of sophisticated drawing and a poetic imagination with a romantic tint, created a very special “human race” found only in the figures of his pictures.

His cubified houses and masses of rocks were always composed with a decorative rhythm. Their refined combinations of broken colors and reserved expression distinguish these paintings. They enter an interesting dialogue with achievements of certain representatives of the German New Objectivity, and also some of the Italians from the Valori Plastici group, though by no means can we speak here of direct influences.

Around 1917-1920 social outsiders, the nostalgic loners who spend their lives in saloons or interiors with scanty furniture, replaced the earlier fishermen and their families, sailors, and merchants. Here we have a clear connection with the “miserable” trend of the young Picasso, such as his Saltimbanques of the blue period. At the same time, these sad themes are counterbalanced by representations of happy families in various configurations: a mother playing with a smiling child, a family playing with a puppet-theatre, etc. The paintings from his last period gain more light and life, while the artist does not eschew dissonances. Contours dissolve on the edges of bordering color areas and spot-lighting melts the surfaces of stylized forms. Żak’s repertoire of forms may not be rich, but it is characteristic enough due to make his works immediately recognizable. His style inspired many Polish artists gathered around “Rhythm,” a group which co-created a Polish version of Art Deco. The important feature of Żak’s grammar of forms was his treatment of the human silhouette, which the painter endowed with elongated proportions that had little in common with those of the real models, a mannerist over-emphasis on contrapposto, and dance-like postures usually ascribed to marionettes or dummies rather than to people.

His late paintings seemed to open a new chapter in his oeuvre: he now began to draw on the color and painterly effects of the Impressionists (primarily those of Renoir) once so much despised by him.

Posted by >RasMarley on 2011-10-01 21:13:58

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